I was there to see it happen

Published 10:22 am Monday, December 29, 2008

Editor’s note: This column originally ran earlier this month and was published incomplete as the result of formatting reasons. It is being rerun in its entirety.

Pope Benedict went to Lourdes a few weeks ago, and when I was in Chicago a few months earlier I saw Francis Cardinal George, Chicago archbishop, organizing a delegation from his diocese for a pilgrimage. In fact, this small French village with its oversize shrine has been overwhelmed throughout this year with a record number of Roman Catholic pilgrims. It is the 150th anniversary, and thousands went to be healed, to see others healed, or to pray for healing of those unable to make the journey. I went to Lourdes seven years ago, and I saw healing taking place there. Why would a Baptist preacher even visit this site sacred to Catholics, much less acknowledge healing.

Adding that I was taken by another Baptist pastor from Liverpool only increases the puzzle. So, I’ll tell you.

Email newsletter signup

The story began on Feb. 11, 1858 when 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) went to a cave in Massabielle Rock, outside her village. She reported seeing there a vision of the Virgin Mary. Indeed, during the subsequent two years Bernadette told of no less than 18 such visions. She, whom she and other Catholics respectfully call The Blessed Virgin Mary, announced she wished a chapel to be built on the site of the appearance. Sometime in the early 1860s, Bernadette, motivated by her devotion to Mary, was received into a religious order at Nevers.

While a nun, it came to be understood that when the Virgin had appeared, she had also caused a spring of water to flow from the rock, a miracle. Eventually, there came to be added to the understanding that the stream possessed healing powers. It was believed the ill and disabled faithful could bathe in the water and, thus experience miraculous healing.

As I indicated, with some teasing I suppose, I saw healing at Lourdes those two days in May 2001. We followed in a long line toward Bernadette’s cave and its spring. Then we came upon an assembly of booths in which women could change for bathing and, also a smaller number for men. Nearby were tubs with water from the stream in which they could immerse themselves. Moreover, in shops nearby there were being sold plastic jugs of various sizes for holding water on the journey home.

For whatever healing there may have been these days, it was not at this point I saw it. I saw healing taking place throughout Lourdes. At the hospice entrance I saw a fleet of special vehicles staged to transported those in need of healing. They looked to me like a combination of convenient wheel chair and comfortable buggy. Flexibly adjustable, they could accommodate patients in any condition from fully prone to sitting upright. They all were covered with uniform and distinctive blue awnings.

Most important, I think, each was attended by a semi-uniformed young person, mostly women but also some men. These did a good deal more than pushing the patient to the waters or wherever they wished to go.

These wonderful young people carefully provided whatever physical assistance was needed. More important yet, they gave convincing tender, loving care. These, I could see, were not just any kids off the streets who wanted a part-time job. These were as dedicated to their ministry of healing as I have seen anywhere.

They were cheerful but serious, attentive without being intrusive.

They were the healers of minds and spirits. I wonder how many recognized the proportion of healing they performed, and I wonder how many of their patients could recognize this human role in healing.

However disabled or diseased a person might be, the mental and emotional component is also a significant factor, and healing is not yet accomplished without healing of mind and spirit. And, at Lourdes, I saw people being healed.For this kind of healing, however, one need not do a pilgrimage to Lourdes. It is our opportunity and, therefore, obligation to be instruments of God’s love for the healing of minds and spirits.